Bob Geldof said: 'Bottled water is bollocks. It is the great irony of the 21st century that the most basic things in the supermarket, such as water and bread, are among the most expensive. Getting water from the other side of the world and transporting it to sell here is ridiculous. It is all to do with lifestyle.'
Dr Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth's senior waste campaigner, said: 'It is another product we do not need. Bottled water companies are wasting resources and exacerbating climate change.
'Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and transporting water adds to that. We could help reduce these damaging effects if we all simply drank water straight from the tap.'
According to the EPI report, tap water is delivered through an 'energy-efficient infrastructure', whereas bottled water is often shipped halfway across the world, burning huge amounts of fossil fuels and accelerating global warming. In 2004, for example, Finnish company Nord Water sent 1.4 million bottles of Helsinki tap water to a client in Saudi Arabia. In the same year, producing the plastic bottles that delivered 26 billion litres of water to Americans required more than 1.5 million barrels of oil - enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year.
Apparently we would. In March 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published the results of a four-year study in which they tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, finding that "an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle--sometimes further treated, sometimes not." If the label says "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system," it's tap water.
Even more disturbing, the NRDC found that 18 of the 103 brands tested had, in at least one sample, "more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity guidelines." About one fifth of the waters "contained synthetic organic chemicals--such as industrial chemicals (e.g., toluene or xylene) or chemicals used in manufacturing plastic (e.g., phthalate, adipate, or styrene)," but these were "generally at levels below state and federal standards." The International Bottled Water Association issued a response to the NRDC study in which it states, "Close scrutiny of the water quality standards for chemical contaminants reveals that [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's] bottled water quality standards are the same as [the Environmental Protection Agency's] tap water standards." Well, that's a relief, but in paying exceptional prices one might hope for exceptional quality.
One problem is that bottled water is subject to less rigorous purity standards and less frequent tests for bacteria and chemical contaminants than those required of tap water. For example, bottled-water plants must test for coliform bacteria once a week; city tap water must be tested 100 or more times a month.
If bottled water is not safer (a 2001 World Wildlife Fund study corroborated the general findings of the NRDC), then surely it tastes better? It does ... as long as you believe in your brand. Enter the water-wars hype. Pepsi introduced Aquafina, so Coke countered with Dasani, a brand that included a "Wellness Team" (meet Susie, Jonny and Ellie, the "stress relief facilitator," "fitness trainer" and "lifestyle counselor," respectively) on its Web site. Both companies charge more for their plain water than for their sugar water.
BOTTLED WATER: Pouring Resources Down the Drain
In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, transported by boat, train, and truck. In 2004, for example, Nord Water of Finland bottled and shipped 1.4 million bottles of Finnish tap water 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) from its bottling plant in Helsinki to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia can afford to import the water it needs, but bottled water is not just sold to water-scarce countries. While some 94 percent of the bottled water sold in the United States is produced domestically, Americans also import water shipped some 9,000 kilometers from Fiji and other faraway places to satisfy the demand for chic and exotic bottled water.
Fossil fuels are also used in the packaging of water. The most commonly used plastic for making water bottles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year. Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.
After the water has been consumed, the plastic bottle must be disposed of. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter. Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Almost 40 percent of the PET bottles that were deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 were actually exported, sometimes to as far away as China—adding to the resources used by this product.
In addition to the strains bottled water puts on our ecosystem through its production and transport, the rapid growth in this industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. For example, water shortages near beverage bottling plants have been reported in Texas and in the Great Lakes region of North America. Farmers, fishers, and others who depend on water for their livelihoods suffer from the concentrated water extraction when water tables drop quickly.
So let's see. Bottled water is expensive, (largely because of branding issues) bad for the planet, bad for you, and most of us can't tell it from tap water. Doesn't seem like a hard decision, really.